Forget juicing, food combining and calorie counting, says JO HAYWOOD. Just go nuts instead.

ARE you a health nut? Don't take offence - it's not a sly pot-shot at your dodgy velour tracksuit; it's a serious question.

Nuts may be small, but they are big news in the health world. New figures show sales of nuts have soared by 80 per cent in the past 12 months.

Brazils have enjoyed the biggest boom with a massive 600 per cent rise, with cashews and walnuts also showing healthy increases of 340 and 320 per cent respectively.

Helen Spath, who owns Tullivers Health Food Shop in Colliergate, York, said sales of nuts and seeds had rocketed in the last year.

"They're versatile, they're tasty and they're good for you," she said. "I think people like the idea that they are a natural food, completely untampered with, and they are a convenience food.

"I don't think it's any coincidence that sales started to increase when that TV programme started."

That TV programme is You Are What You Eat with straight-talking nutritionist Gillian McKeith, who sings the praises of nuts and seeds at every opportunity.

And she's not the only one. Double Olympic gold medallist Kelly Holmes swears by them for warding off fatigue and boosting her powers of recovery.

Fellow nut nutter TV presenter Claire Sweeney has also confessed to nibbling them whenever she's in the studio, along with rice cakes, cherries, blackcurrant Ryvitas and Haribo jellies (yum).

But are Gillian, Kelly and Claire right? Word on the street - Harley Street no less - is that they are, as a growing body of research indicates that noshing on nuts might have valuable long-term health benefits.

Not only are they packed with vitamins and minerals, they may also help to protect us from illnesses such as heart disease and breast cancer.

"Unsalted nuts are definitely a healthy snack food," said Dr Anne Nugent of the British Nutrition Foundation. "Although some nuts are relatively high in fat, it's the healthier, mono-unsaturated fat they contain, like olive oil, which has been proven to have heart-protective effects."

This nut explosion has also had a knock-on effect for other health foods. People might amble into a shop for a bag of brazils, but they often leave with a carrier full of healthy goodies.

"You can always spot the ones who are buying for the first time," said Helen of Tullivers. "They come up to the counter and ask if you sell pumpkin seeds, as if they are the rarest, most unusual commodity imaginable.

"After a while their confidence grows and, before you know it, they're a regular."

So how do you go about finding the right nut for you? Here's a quick taster...


The sweet almond has the largest share of the nut trade worldwide. Almonds are particularly nutritious, containing protein, iron, calcium, vitamin E, zinc and vitamin B2. One serving daily (about 23 almonds or 1oz) as part of a low fat, low cholesterol diet can reduce cholesterol levels and the risk of heart disease, according to the Almond Board of California.


Brazil nuts are a good source of selenium, which is difficult to absorb from the average British diet. Research suggests selenium may help the body to defend itself from disease. As well as protein, brazils are high in fat, which causes them to go rancid quickly.


Cashews are high in protein and carbohydrate as well as being rich in vitamin A. The cashew nut is related to the mango, pistachio and poison ivy.


Chestnuts are high in starch, but low in protein and fat. They can be used in soup, fritters, porridge, stuffing and stew, as well as being roasted or boiled whole.


Hazelnuts are lower in fat than most other nuts. Used in sweet and savoury dishes, they are available whole, ground and flaked, or made into oil and nut butter.


Also known as groundnuts or monkey nuts, peanuts are actually legumes. Peanuts are high in protein and contain 40-50 per cent oil. They're also rich in vitamins B and E. In a 100g of peanuts, you'll find 24.3g of protein, 2mg of iron and 3mg of zinc.


Pine nuts have the highest content of protein of all nuts and seeds with 31g in every 100g. They go off quickly and should be stored in the fridge or freezer.


There are more than 15 varieties of walnut available. Walnuts are high in fat but they're also a good source of phosphorous, potassium, magnesium, protein and vitamin E.

Updated: 09:16 Tuesday, June 21, 2005